Football: Kinnear's gang show wins more plaudits

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Wimbledon 4 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Wimbledon's manager Joe Kinnear - who, let's face it, likes a good moan - has got nothing to complain about at the moment. He seems uneasy. Fifth place in the table, six wins in a row - a club record in the top flight - and everybody being complimentary about his team. Where will it end?

When pressed, Kinnear conceded that if all went well, and his team continued to be lucky with injuries, then it might end in a top-eight place and qualification for Europe. But he was clearly uncomfortable with such speculation. "We have got to be realistic," he said.

Wimbledon are the arch realists of the League. In the past 10 years, they have averaged ninth place in the top division, but you sense they measure their success not so much in how close they are to the top but in how far they are from the bottom.

With small, if infinitely loyal crowds, and no money to speak of, Wimbledon have always had to live on their wits, spirits and youngsters. Their current run is based upon a number of outstanding young players - such as Neil Ardley, Dean Blackwell and their goalkeeper, Neil Sullivan - who have all come through long periods of injury.

Sullivan, in particular, excelled on Saturday with a stupendous penalty save from David Hirst six minutes from time which prevented a fitful Wednesday side from levelling at 3-3. In that moment of startling athleticism the game finally tipped Wimbledon's way, and Vinnie Jones' simple headed goal four minutes from time merely confirmed the fact.

Kinnear has been repaid for keeping faith with Sullivan, who suffered a traumatic broken leg at the end of last season, even when the young keeper was being criticised for conceding long-distance lobbed goals from David Beckham and David Batty in the opening games of the season.

"Just think how much coverage you'll get during goal of the season," he told the stricken 19-year-old. That's the Crazy Gang spirit.

Not all was bright for Kinnear - he did lose his Scottish international defender, Brian McAllister, with a leg injury. But his side is looking a far more settled item than that of his counterpart, David Pleat.

The Wednesday manager, whose defence conspicuously lacked the binding presence of the suspended Des Walker, cheered himself up with the thought of playing Benito Carbone, signed from Milan for pounds 2.6m, wide on the right.

Carbone was not cleared to take part in this match, but he made an appearance, warming up sporadically as if he were a substitute. This, Pleat explained, was for the benefit of Carbone's mother, who was watching the match on her satellite TV channel.

Strange behaviour. Almost as strange as that of the Wednesday keeper, Kevin Pressman, whose nightmarish attempt at a clearance from a simple back- pass gifted Efan Ekoku an opening goal after just two minutes.

Wimbledon responded in kind, allowing Andy Booth to equalise from the kick-off, but Robbie Earle and Oyvind Leonhardsen soon established a lead that looked comfortable until Graham Hyde rounded off a carefully crafted move.

Goals: Ekoku (2) 1-0; Booth (3) 1-1; Earle (31) 2-1; Leonhardsen (67) 3-1; Hyde (72) 3-2; Jones (86) 4-2.

Wimbledon (3-5-2): Sullivan; Perry, McAllister (Blackwell, 26), Thatcher; Cunningham, Leonhardsen (Kimble, 81), Earle, Jones, Ardley; Gayle, Ekoku (Holdsworth, 81). Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Harford.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Atherton (Nicol, 68), Newsome, Stefanovic (Oakes, 70), Nolan; Whittingham (Trustfull, h-t), Hyde, Pembridge, Blinker; Hirst, Booth. Substitutes not used: Clarke (gk), Humphreys.

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Man of the match: Sullivan.

Attendance: 10,512.

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